Radio remains one of the most accessible and used forms to communicate and disseminate information in sub-Saharan Africa. This is particularly true among many isolated communities that do not have the means to operate landlines or computers. “Radio [also] speaks the language known by the majority of the population, for an oral language is not simply the product of illiteracy,” Kivikuru explains further (2005, p.326). At the same time, the usage of another communication tool surges, mobile phones.
In tandem with mobile phones, radio stations provide a forum, or a public sphere, for ordinary people to voice their opinions and discuss matters of common interest. So why not also use the medium for reconciliation? Stations in Cote d’Ivoire and Uganda show how it works.
Cote d’Ivoire has suffered from two civil wars in 2002-2007 and 2010-2011, and to this day, the country is deeply divided along political and ethical lines. The rehabilitation process is difficult but links between communities and local radio stations help building bridges and foster an understanding between different communities. Radio Duékoué “La Voix du Guémon” is one of such radio stations. Its programmes reflect on the conflicts and allow victims to share their sufferings and hopes for the future on air. Other listeners are invited to call in to share their own stories. Allen and Stremlau call this “promoting a ‘marketplace of idea’” by “opening the media and encourage more voices to counteract the offender” (2005, p.219).
Many participants desire a community enriched by ethnic diversity and shared values. This platform offered insight into the recurrence of violence in the community and ideas on how all people could participate constructively in the ongoing healing process.
Gnagne Richmond, Deputy Mayor of Duékoué
Radio stations in Uganda show how programmes can also affect an ongoing conflict. Mega FM broadcasts in the north of Uganda, an area that has been ravaged by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The programme “Dwog cen paco” (come back home) brings former LRA soldiers on air to talk about their experiences. Oryema is one of more than 3,000 soldiers that the station encouraged to come home.
I did not feel anything bad about killing. Not until I started listening to Radio Mega…. I actually heard over the radio how…we burnt homes…. And I started to think, ‘Are we really fighting a normal war?’ That is when I started realizing that maybe there is something better than being here in the bush.
Oryema, a former LRA child soldier
Radio Duékoué is part of a USAID programme, Mega FM is funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and other foreign donor organisations support their own community radio stations. Kivikuru recognises this trend. “Grassroots-oriented community media, produced and controlled by local people, sound like an ideal tool for the promotion of democracy: these media are able to ‘give a voice to the voiceless’, to discuss matters important to ordinary people and to exert pressure on decision-makers,” in our case in particular the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2005, p.329).
Though she asks, “top/down or bottom/up – does it really matter” (2005, p.329). According to Shirky, it does. He sees the media as a tool to sustainably strengthen civil societies, and observes that “positive changes in the life of a country […] follow, rather than precede, the development of a strong public sphere” (2010, p.5). With this in mind, community radio stations seem vital in establishing lasting peace after a conflict.
Got interested in the topic? The short film “Peace on Air” is available on Youtube!
Allen, Tim and Nicole Stremlau (2005). Media policy, peace and state reconstruction, in Oscar Hemer and Thomas Tufte (eds.), Media & Glocal Change—Rethinking
Communication for DevelopmentKivikuru, Ullamaija (2005). The citizen, media and social change in Namibia, in Oscar Hemer and Thomas Tufte (eds.), Media & Glocal Change—Rethinking Communication for Development
Shirky, Clay (2010). The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change